Clark Gable was originally considered for the part of Joe Massara, but Jack L. Warner decided that Gable's ears were too big, and the role went to Douglas Fairbanks Jr. instead. Gable ultimately signed with MGM, where he would become one of the biggest stars in Hollywood history.
Although The Doorway to Hell, a gangster film released by Warner Bros. in 1930 was a big hit at the time, most sources consider Little Caesar to be the film which started a brief craze for the genre in the early 1930s.
Despite the film's huge success, the book's author, W.R. Burnett, was furious that no actual Italians were cast in the film.
In a separately filmed trailer, Vitaphone production reel #4529, Edward G. Robinson and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. discuss the picture.
In one scene, Edward G. Robinson had to fire a pistol while facing the camera. Try as he might, he was unable to keep his eyes open each time he pulled the trigger. The problem was eventually solved by having Robinson's eyes held open with cellophane tape.
In September 1928, Warner Bros. Pictures purchased a majority interest in First National Pictures and from that point on, all "First National" productions were actually made under Warner Bros. control, even though the two companies continued to retain separate identities until the mid-1930's, after which time "A Warner Bros.-First National Picture" was often used.
Producer Hal B. Wallis originally auditioned Edward G. Robinson for the supporting role of Otero (played in the film by George E. Stone) before deciding he was perfect as Rico.
Ranked #9 on the American Film Institute's list of the 10 greatest films in the genre "Gangster" in June 2008.
Speculation has it that a federal anti-organized crime law - The Racketeering Influence Corrupt Organization Act, or RICO - got its acronym from Edward G. Robinson's character.
The "Forward" that now appears on the beginning of the film was added for the 1954 re-release of Little Caesar and The Public Enemy as a combination package.
The character Diamond Pete Montana was modeled on Jim Colosimo, who was murdered by Al Capone; and "The Big Boy" was based on corrupt politician William 'Big Bill' Thompson, Mayor of Chicago. The underworld banquet sequence was also based on a real event - a notorious party in honor of two gangsters, Charles Dion O'Bannion and Samuel J. "Nails" Morton, which received unfavorable coverage in the Chicago press.
The character of Cesare Enrico Bandello is not, as widely believed, based on Al Capone. Instead, he is based on Salvatore "Sam" Cardinella, a violent Chicago gangster who operated in the early years of Prohibition.
The character of Joe Massara was based on actor George Raft, who was associated with Owney Madden, the man who organized the taxi racket in New York City.
The film was reviewed in Photoplay Magazine in December 1930 (on the newstands in November), and ready for release in December 1930, but Warner's brass felt it was not a Christmas picture. It officially debuted at the Strand Theatre in New York City on 9 January 1931.
The movie's line "Mother of mercy, is this the end of Rico?" was voted as the #73 movie quote by the American Film Institute (out of 100).
The opening weekend of this film's release broke the all-time attendance record for Warner Bros.' Strand Theatre in New York, grossing $50,000 in eleven performances. Both Edward G. Robinson and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. made personal appearances at the New York premiere, for which the top ticket prices were two dollars.
There were two versions of Rico's final words filmed, "Mother of God, is this the end of Rico?" and "Mother of mercy, is this the end of Rico?" Although "Mother of God" was taken directly from W.R. Burnett's novel, it was decided the line was potentially blasphemous coming from a murderous gangster and "mother of mercy" was used instead.
Vitaphone production reels #4531-4538.